Vegetarian food was always popular in India. But it was never this exciting. The rising demand for meat-free dining options has led to a spate of new vegetarian restaurants that are pushing the culinary envelope with spectacular dishes. Even established restaurants are increasing the number of meat-free choices on their existing menus.
An increasing awareness of health, the environment and compassion for animals are goading many (especially youngsters) to go for the greens. Some see it as a good way to detox. Whether you are helping your waistline or the planet by eating less meat, the fact remains that vegetarians today are much better served than they were before.
Restaurants today are not just improving their vegetarian offerings but also enticing the meat lovers with innovative and interesting dishes. “Yes, there is definitely a growing trend. Not just pure vegetarians but meat eaters also want to see vegetarian options as they associate it to be healthier and lighter on the stomach,” says Chef Abhijeet Gomare, Chili’s (R) Grill & Bar, South & West India. The bestselling item on Chili’s menu across India is the veggie and cheese quesadillas! The American casual dining restaurant chain has the most extensive vegetarian menu in India than anywhere else in the world.
The menu at White Owl a micro brewery in Mumbai always had a slight bias towards vegetarians with almost 60 per cent of the menu dedicated to them. They have recently signed up with PETA to create a vegan menu. Burger and fries chain McDonald’s biggest selling product in India remains aloo tikki burger despite a string of chicken and egg innovations. That says it all, doesn’t it?
The choice widens
Forget paneer and potatoes. Enter avocado, zucchini, broccoli, leek, cherry tomato, asparagus, quinoa, chia seeds, exotic cheese and herbs. Vegetarian cooking is enjoying a makeover, prompting meat-eaters to put down their steak knives.
Vedge a new restaurant in Mumbai is one such place that’s pushing the culinary envelope with an innovative all vegetarian menu. Their Chukandar ki Galouti is the north-Indian Beetroot tikki dressed up using Italian cheese, balsamic drizzle and green mango zing. “The idea is to create a strong surprise element with our food. We present comfort food with Indian influences and contemporary presentations. We want to educate our customers that there is more than just paneer and potatoes in vegetarian fare,” claims Aditya Sawant, Owner, Vedge.
Masala Library Mumbai, the culinary laboratory of the czar of Indian cooking, Jiggs Kalra, does a fabulous take on the deeply comforting Indian staple. Dal Chawal Arancini (panko fried dal chawal balls) is served with tomato onion salsa. Farzi Café in Gurgaon uses strong elements of molecular gastronomy to offer dishes like Nimboo achar caviar and Makhan wali kaali daal ka shorba. The idea is to not just create an equal choice for the customers with vegetarian leaning, but also make it exciting. “Vegetarians today are seeking new flavours and combinations. They are looking for options that are not just fried and fatty, but wholesome, nutritious and delicious,” believes Anand Morwani Chef and Co-founder of Brewbot, Mumbai.
The vegetarian wave is not just sweeping Indian food but Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, Burmese and Pan Asian too. Burma Burma a newly opened Burmese eatery in Mumbai infuses pureed green tea in their salad. Don’t believe us? Try the Mandalay laphet thoke or fermented tea leaf salad where salad regulars like alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes and red cabbage are tossed with pureed green tea. Spiceklub is another Mumbai based all vegetarian restaurant that takes many inventive leaps with its menu. Many of the appetisers and desserts here get the molecular treatment. Dehydrated dahi vada with spherified yoghurt; pani puri with chutney injections; paan mousse; and chocolate cake presented as a bar of soap with dairy foam.
Another newly opened meat-free restaurant in Mumbai – Asian Street Kitchen sees a packed house for its Asian fare, especially the Ramen Bowl- a comforting hot broth with soft tofu, vegetables, shitake mushrooms and dried chilli.
These newer restaurants now join other vegetarian stalwarts such as Shiv Sagar (Mumbai and Pune), Sagar Ratna (all over India), Swati Snacks (Mumbai), Sattviko (Delhi), Café Madras (Mumbai), Quattro (Mumbai), New Yorker (Mumbai), Rajdhani (all India) and Kailash Parbat (Mumbai). Between new eateries and the pioneering veg-friendly establishments, it is now actually easy and appealing to go vegetarian.
NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR